Youth chess in Chicago, as it is in many other cities, is a complicated mosaic. We outline below some of the major components.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Compared to many other cities, a relatively small number of CPS schools have chess clubs. While accurate data are not presently available, attendance figures at competitive K-8 events and in the high school conferences provide some starting points. We estimate that roughly 45 CPS elementary schools (8%) and 34 CPS high schools (27%) have chess clubs or teams. The high school teams are members of the Chicago Public League conference (http://theicca.blogspot.com/2008/07/chicago-public-league.html). 16 of the CPS high school teams participated in the 2010 CPS high school championship.
Many CPS clubs are supported by the CPS Sports Department, which provides annual stipends to chess coaches (usually a few hundred dollars). Most of these coaches and others who help run school clubs, including teachers and parents, volunteer most or all of their time. Other clubs are run by private service providers which are paid either from discretionary funds available to principals and CPS area directors or by the families of participating students. Privately-run programs often charge $10 to $15 per child per session, but some offer scholarships.
CPS participation in major statewide youth competitions is low. In 2010, for example, although individual players from Chicago attended the Illinois K-8 Championship, there was only one team entry from a CPS school. Seven CPS high schools sent teams to the IHSA High School Championship out of the 130 schools attending.
ICA has proposed a significant upgrade of chess in the CPS system. See our proposal. One of the first steps we recommend is to survey Chicago schools to gather accurate data and determine interest in program development.
Some parochial and independent schools in Chicago also have chess clubs, a few of which participate in tournaments. Only three schools with kids in grades K-8 (two parochial and one independent) sent teams to the free tournaments run by YCFC (see below). One of the sixteen Illinois high school conferences, the Chicago Chess Conference, is comprised of 10 Catholic high schools in Chicago (and two in the suburbs). ICA hopes to gather more accurate data on participation levels from these schools.
Tournaments in Chicago. Scholastic players can choose from a variety of local tournaments held in Chicago and its suburbs. Most are sponsored by professional organizers, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and are listed in our Events section. The majority are USCF-rated and have entry fees in the $25-$30 range. A few others sponsored by community-wide programs are less expensive.
CPS city-wide championships for students at both the elementary and high school level are sponsored by the CPS Sports Department, usually in March. To participate in the K-8 CPS championship, players must have played in four previous matches or two tournaments and then qualify in either a south side or north side qualifying event. There is no equivalent qualifier for the high school event. For more information, see www.cpschess.com.
For the past several years, there has also been a Chicago Prep Bowl for teams involved in the Chicago Public League (the CPS conference) and Chicago Chess Conference (parochial schools). The 2009 Prep Bowl was held in December. See http://theicca.blogspot.com/2009/07/chicago-prep-bowl-dec-06-2009.html.
The Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago (YCFC) has been running free tournaments for Chicago kids in grades K-8 for approximately fifteen years. In the past, these tournaments have been held in elementary and middle schools, but attendance increased substantially during the 2009-2010 school year, and future events will be held in Chicago-area high schools. The majority of participants attend CPS schools but the events are also open to students from parochial and independent schools. YCFC’s events are listed on the ICA Events page, and tournament results are listed at www.thechessacademy.org/YCFC.html.
Two annual invitational events are also held for CPS students. The “MVP Tournament,” sponsored by the David R. Macdonald Foundation, is open to top K-8 players nominated by their coaches, and is held at the Harold Washington Library over spring break. The "Diamond in the Rough" tournament, held in late spring at Cellular Field and hosted by the Illinois Sports Facility Authority and CPS’ Office of Academic Enhancement, is open to students attending CPS Magnet Cluster schools participating in the federally-funded Voluntary Public School Choice Program.